I wake up with dirt under my nails. It’s not that I don’t clean them — between painting and gardening and COVID handwashing, I have to scrape under them several times a day. I wondered for awhile if I was forgetting to do a thorough job before bed. Then I gave myself over to magical thinking and imagined I had a dream garden planted somewhere that blooms gloriously but is hidden from my conscious mind.
I finally figured out it’s from the lotions I use during the night to numb my neuropathy and joint pain. I put it on several times a night and I guess it accumulates and darkens under my nails
Years ago, when I still lived in Portland, and could still walk with a walker, I was counseled by a friend about grounding practices to deal with anxiety. She reminded me to connect with the earth, to put my bare feet on grass, on dirt, on earth. It’s was hard for me, even then, to stand very long, but I would go to a park and sit on a bench, free my feet from my walking boots, then scrunch my toes in the grass and earth.
I never made grounding a conscious therapy. As spring has blossomed here I think of all the summers when I was young. I couldn’t wait to kick of my shoes and walk through the grass. As a child, I think I got a bee sting every year, but oh walking through clover was always such a delight.
People often look at me, see an older woman in a wheelchair, and they wonder if they could bear living life this way. I’m not sure I imagined if I could, but here I am. You adapt. You mourn your losses and find your strengths. My lower body sensations continue to change — some parts numb, others feel pain, others feel false sensations, like crawly skin and sudden twitches. Physically, I weaken and weaken.
I’ve been on a lot of different medications for these symptoms, but in the last few years, the medications that work really well have been regulated to the point that it’s become almost impossible to depend on being able to get them. I’ve lost faith in what for so long has felt like a support system. (These are regulations passed during the previous administration. I don’t know if they’ll get any better in the new one.) I’m switching to more natural medications, vitamins, and mind/body coping mechanisms. I’m taking it slow, but still have had a lot of mood swings and feelings of defeat. I also got blocked on painting.
Now I am grounding myself. I put plants in dirt and urge them to grow every day. I can’t work in the outside garden at all this year, but I’ve had good helpers and we’re planting perennials that will take care of themselves, as nature does, even if I want to take credit for what grows on my little bit of rented land.
On my porch, I decided to plant fewer pots so there’d be more room for chairs, and more turn-around room for my wheelchair. But I keep buying and finding more to bring home, so I’ll see what grows and how to arrange it so there’s room for both human and plant friends.
A degenerative disorder means you can never really feel the illusion that life will be the same from one day to the next. Even though I’ve had this disorder since I was 16, it still surprises me, sends me sputtering around in an ocean of self doubt and insecurity.
When I started potting plants, I could have used my garden gloves to protect my hands and keep them clean, but I wanted to touch dirt. It got it deeply wedged under my nails. I dug and crumbled up earth. I nestled growing things into that dark common substance that is the random gift of all the planet’s history.
I felt like I was burying parts of myself — outmoded beliefs and longings that needed composting. I felt a connection with the muddiness of all life. The dirt allowed me to shape it to my needs. In these small bits of garden, I planted my sorrows and confusion, and I know they will grow into something that delights me in the foreseeable future.
And then, I started painting again.
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